Mbeki misses his chance

2007-12-16 00:00

Beleaguered ANC president Thabo Mbeki, under siege by a large vocal and defiant Jacob Zuma following at the ANC national conference, gambled away a chance to win support in his opening address.

Delegates described his 42-page political report to the party as a state of the nation address more appropriate to Parliament than to a party gathering. “What’s left now for him to say in government?” some remarked.

Delegates, many of whom were caught napping during the lengthy speech, showed their disapproval by defiantly singing Zuma’s trade mark uMshini Wami, while a stoical Mbeki looked ahead.

With the leadership elections looming and a high state of tension at the conference venue, no one wanted to be quoted in case they are seen as being in one or other camp.

Such is the acrimony and deep distrust between the two camps that there is even suspicion that an electronic counting system, which was to be used to count votes in the leadership election, could be rigged. Delegates argued strongly for a manual system and refused to accept any explanations about how the electronic system works. Just after 7 pm last night the electoral commission realised they were in a no-win situation and said they would use a manual system, but this would mean the results will be delayed by about a day.

Even delegates sympathetic to Mbeki said he missed a golden opportunity to talk directly to the members.

They can’t understand why he hasn’t picked up that the tussle with Zuma is not about policy, but about leadership style.

Some of the comments were that the whole world knows that the organisation is in difficulties, yet the president failed to address this, concentrating on his report card. Others believed that the lacklustre manner in which Mbeki read his address showed he was accepting defeat.

“I saw a loser,” said a delegate. “He spoke with no passion.”

Many asked how he could have misread the situation and the mood of the membership.

They also picked on his inability to admit mistakes, saying his report should have dealt with shortcomings: the way that crime has been handled, for example. A delegate said this demonstrates that Mbeki remains a denialist.

ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe picked up in detail on the bitter divisions within the party, a point that the ANC has always denied, and blamed the media for exaggerating the divisions. However, the animosity was on open display at the conference.

Motlanthe asked how the president and deputy president have a list of candidates for the national executive committee of the organisation, yet their names do not appear on each other’s lists.

“But it would be to bury our heads in the sand not to acknowledge that the Mbeki-Zuma template has become part of the frame of reference, including among the membership and within senior leadership collectives, including the NEC.”

Motlanthe also admitted that there have been complaints of vote buying and that these will be ininvestigated. “When money changes hands in the battle for personal power and aggrandisement, what is happening to an organisation built on self-sacrifice?” he said.

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